Five adjustments the Lakers need in Game 2 against Dallas
1. The Lakers need to stop playing with a situational attitude. They spent the entire first half of Game 1 testing the waters, but then opportunity struck. Dallas guard Jason Terry made a horrific foul on Lamar Odom near half-court with .7 seconds left in the second quarter, granting him three free throws. As if that wasn't enough, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki picked up a technical foul after elbowing Ron Artest during the last foul shot, granting the Lakers a total of four foul shots in the last .7 seconds of the first half. For those counting, that equaled the Mavericks' trip to the stripe in the entire second quarter.
If momentum, a loss of composure and a Lakers' 53-44 halftime lead didn't suggest the Mavericks would unravel much like the way they blew a 23-point lead in Game 4 in their first-round series against Portland, surely Dallas sensed that coming when the Lakers went on a 7-0 run to start the third quarter. The Lakers enjoyed a 60-44 lead with 10:37 left in the third quarter with clear skies awaiting them, but instead of continuing to keep the intensity, the Lakers simply let up.
The Mavericks went on an 11-2 run, the Lakers shot six of 16 from the field following the timeout and they committed three turnovers. Analyze all you want in the factors below, such as the Lakers' inability to stop Dirk Nowitzki, the Lakers' bench coughing up a lead in the fourth quarter, the lacking inside production and the team's horrific play in the final minutes. But had the Lakers still maintained the same intensity, they would've walked away with a Game 1 victory. Of course, offsetting some of the other problems would've likely given the Lakers a win, but the team's situational attitude is more of a deeply rooted cause that contributed to the Lakers unnecessarily going six games against the Hornets and lacking any reliable consistency throughout the season.
2. The Lakers must find a better matchup to stop Nowitzki. I outlined in detail on the previous post how the Lakers had no answer for Nowitzki, who scored 28 points on 11-of-22 shooting, regardless of whether they matched him up with Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom. Gasol either gave him too much space or conceded little, but never threw a body on him. Odom played more physical with Nowitzki, but the Euro forward can still hit off-balance shots through physical contact. One of the solutions might entail matching Nowitzki up on Ron Artest, whose focus on him could give Gasol more energy in being more effective offensively and Odom more room to make sure the Lakers' bench plays cohesively.
Artest has the defensive prowess to at least make shots more difficult for Nowitzki, but should the Lakers implement this strategy, the Lakers are going to go through an exercise on how they cross match accordingly. Nowitzki will still likely guard Gasol, who should take advantage of his lax defense by driving into the lane more. But that will require Gasol and Odom alike making sure they switch on defense so they don't get in Artest's way. Given the Lakers' inconsistency on staying disciplined on rotations, this might create additional problems.
3. The Lakers need better bench play. It remains to be seen whether Phil Jackson's decision to keep his reserves on the floor until the 6:37 mark of the fourth quarter will help down the road from a trust standpoint. It's an exercise he often does in the regular season to build that bond and to give the likes of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol fresh legs to close out the game. But in the case of Game 1, the decision backfired. The Lakers entered the fourth quarter with a 78-71 lead only to see it tighten to 86-83 with 6:39 remaining before Bryant and Gasol checked into the lineup.
Through that stretch, the Lakers went three-of-11 from the field and only gave Bynum a total of three looks inside. That resulted in two missed jumpers and two made free throws, showing Bynum's three of eight clip was far from effective. But doing a better job in finding him open looks inside would've proven to be a better alternative than the other shots they took, which included Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom combining for a zero-of-three mark from three-point range, Odom missing a 17-footer and Brown misfiring on a 20-footer.
With how unreliable the bench has proven in continuing this poor pattern of shot selection, they are very lucky Jackson still showed trust in them. But Bryant didn't mince words one bit when he largely blamed the loss on the team's second unit, a sentiment surely plenty of the starters feel. To get back in their good graces, the bench must show they're worthy of being trusted.
4. The Lakers need to close out the game in better fashion. This very well may be an example of Derek Fisher providing words of encouragement, but he expressed the most disappointment that the Lakers couldn't simply close the game out, arguing the team still had a three-point lead with 6:39 remaining. I'd argue the Lakers' poor play in the third quarter and the unraveling in the fourth quarter proved more significant in the unraveling and that those two variables gave the starters a bad hand to deal. But for the sake of getting the desired result, the Lakers could've swept all the aforementioned issues under the rug had they simply executed on the last play. As much scrutiny as Bryant has gotten for his missed three-pointer, the final play actually proved to be a good look as he curled off a screen Bynum set on Kidd at the top of the key. What's more egregious proved to be the plays leading up to that point.
That entailed Bryant missing another jumper and committing a turnover. It involved Gasol getting blocked, losing the ball off a dump pass to Bryant and wrongfully fouling Nowitzki on an inbounds play with 19.7 seconds remaining. And it entailed Jackson making a substitution he later regretted, throwing in Andrew Bynum for Lamar Odom. Jackson wanted to send in Steve Blake for Odom instead after seeing the Mavericks were going with a lineup that featured a smaller unit, with Peja Stojakovic replacing Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea subbing in for Shawn Marion. But Jackson argued the officials didn't let him, which he argued "changed the course of the game," considering Bynum tipped Jason Kidd's inbounds pass and Gasol mistakenly fouled Nowitzki at the top of the key en route to a Dallas lead it never relinquished. Had the Lakers rectified on all those late-game decisions, they'd be boasting about how their resilience paid off instead of parsing all the mistakes they made.
5. The Lakers need a bigger inside presence
The Mavericks pretty much constructed their team as a counterpoint to the Lakers' size, bringing in Chandler and Brandon Haywood in hopes that it could offset the advantage the Lakers mostly enjoy. As more physical the Mavericks seem to have played, the Lakers' poor inside game has more to do with shying away from their skillset. Neither Bynum nor Gasol played aggressively enough to combat Dallas' physical play. The team didn't really look for them either, with Hoopdata.com indicating the two combined for six field goals at the rim. That's an indictment on the Lakers not setting them up inside and the post players not establishing themselves enough. It's a consistent trend the Lakers have fallen into for far too long.
-- Mark Medina
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Top photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol fouls Dallas power forward Dirk Nowitzki on an inbounds play in the final minute of Game 1 on Monday night at Staples Center. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
Bottom photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who finished with 36 points, tries to split the defense of Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki and guard Jason Kidd on a drive in the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Monday night at Staples Center. Bryant turned the ball over on the play. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times